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Enough to drive you potty; Dress up your garden with a riot of colour in containers.

THE weather may be chilly and changeable, but in my book, summer's here, so I'm planting up my summer containers.

When we first moved here and the garden was an overgrown jungle, I satisfied my craving to grow flowers by planting up as many pots and tubs as I could get my hands on.

It was a way of keeping the gardening urge going. It took several years for us to hack, strim and chainsaw areas for planting, but at least the sights and scents of summer were there in pot form.

I'm often asked how on earth to start tackling wilderness gardens and my top tip comes from my own experience all those years ago.

Hack down and mow whatever you can, but in the meantime give yourself the pleasure of real gardening by planting up containers. For me, a garden without pots and tubs is like a beautifully furnished and decorated room without ornaments and pictures. There's always a missing element, a lack of personality.

In the last 10 years the range of plants and pots available has spiralled. So, too, have the different styles of containers.

It's a treat to survey your empty containers at the start of the season and then decide how you are going to display them this year. And since the stock of pots or other containers can be built up gradually, it's not so hugely expensive.

Lash out on something good every now and again if you can afford it. A big centrepiece pot will pay for itself time and again over the years.

One of the most recent trends is the permanent planting of containers, with topiary, or single specimens of grasses or hostas.

Another is to group individually planted pots together to make a sort of pot landscape, with each complementing the others. It's great fun choosing exactly the right pot for the plant.

A blue-leaved hosta, for example, would look wonderful in a shiny blue-glazed oriental pot. Grown as a single specimen, you can appreciate the architectural splendour of the plant. Feeding will make the leaves huge and lush, and slugs won't be a problem.

Team it up with a bright yellow grass, in, perhaps, a black pot. Milium effusum aureum, Bowles Golden grass would be a perfect choice.Then pick a spiky variegated agave in a shallow earthenware pot to make a further contrast. These three plants together would make a strong and decorative feature all summer long.

They also make a perfect backbone for more conventional summer plants. Slot fuchsias, marguerites (argyranthemums) or even nasturtiums into the arrangement, all grown in individual pots. Houseplants, out for the summer could add to the picture, and seasonal plantings, like lilies, could be brought in.

Raise some of the pots up on bricks to give height. And cut costs by using some plastic pots that can be hidden by smarter pots and a profusion of foliage. Start with a centrepiece plant to give a bit of height.

Cordylines make an upright green fountain, and always look good, but I also like the taller, more rigid varieties of fuchsia - my favourite is the dark-leaved 'Thalia' with its coral sprays of tubular flowers. I've had success, too, with a tripod of twigs to support annual climbers like sweet peas or cobaea scandens (the cup-and-saucer vine).

Next, pick medium-sized plants that will bush out or weave around to leave no space unfilled. Tobacco plants (nicotiana), geraniums (pelargoniums) or smaller fuchsias are ideal.

Marguerites, like pale lemon 'Jamaica Primrose' or white 'Chelsea Girl' with needle fine blue foliage look lavish and summery, as do the many varieties of osteospermum with their daisy flowers.

Finish off with a skirt of trailing plants that will brim over the edges of the container, and become more billowing and flouncy as the summer goes on.

Trailing ivy-leaved geraniums, petunias, verbenas and nasturtiums all do the job brilliantly, and a few smaller trailers, like lobelia will fill any gaps with a cloud of tiny flowers.

Finally, scatter some seed of night-scented stock. The flowers are pretty insignificant, but the scent is dreamy.

The object of the exercise is an explosion of bloom and fragrance all summer long. Some folk like to go for a riot of colour in their tubs, merrily mixing bright and pastel shades in a jolly mish-mash of screaming colour.

It works a treat, especially in a dull summer, but you need to have a strong constitution to live with a riot.

Those of more nervous disposition, like myself, prefer to colour-theme their containers. Containers that are colour co-ordinated needn't be wishy-washy.

For years the barrels by my house have been done in shades of crimson, scarlet and hot pink, and it's pretty well my favourite scheme. Zinging red Salvia fulgens blended with red-leaved cannas, red-black chocolate cosmos, ivy-leaved Geranium 'Tomcat', and hot pink Verbena 'Sissinghurst.

This year I'm trying something different as I feel I've been stuck in a rut. Blues, purples and yellows work well.

It's now possible to buy trays of petunias or pansies in single colours that make colour-scheming easy.

There are also plants unavailable 10 years ago - diascias, osteospermum, argyranthemum, and the like, so there's no excuse for boring tubs this summer.

Let your imagination soar, and your containers will be sensational.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Wheatcroft, Janet
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 10, 2000
Next Article:GARDENERS' Q&A.

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